Dr. Ned's Computers Gold Coast, Australia

Windows 8

Windows 8 brings some of the biggest changes to the Windows interface than we have seen for a long time, in many ways it can be compared to the switch from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. The Windows 7 interface has been a gradual refinement to the Windows 95 interface, so over time people have adapted without too much trouble. With Windows 8 however, Microsoft has made some major changes, and if you want to adapt to it as quickly as possible, here are a few of the things I've found make it much easier to ramp up your productivity. 

While Microsoft may be taking something of a brute force approach to ensuring that all Windows 8 users get to experience the new Windows 8 interface, there are some who will rely on undocumented and unsupported approaches to get things back closer to how they were in Windows 7. The main piece of advice I can give here is be very careful doing this, as you never know what future Windows Updates may do to these workarounds, potentially leaving users in an unsupported state. Making these types of changes on your own PC is usually fine, but you don't really want to end up in a situation where you need to repair a large number of machines in a short timeframe.

The big question is why is Microsoft really trying to force some interaction with the new UI on users? While there hasn't been an official reason given, it's easy to see what some of the benefits are for Microsoft. The primary one I see is that it gives users a chance to adapt to the changes, because you can still do most of the things you already know in the Windows desktop.

Don't Be Distracted By The New UI Elements

This is counterproductive from a long term perspective, but if you try to treat Windows 8 like Windows 7 for the majority of your needs, you may find that the differences aren't great enough to cause a major overhaul to how you work. There are some new capabilities that can only be accessed through the new user interface, but if you try to do as much as you possibly can in the way that Windows 7 would have allowed it, you should be fine.

start menu

If you right click on the Start Screen preview you get access to a large number of useful shortcuts.







Train Yourself To Use Start Search

While watching other people work with various builds of Windows 8, one thing that really stood out was those who used the Start menu structure to find applications versus those who relied on using Start Search  in Windows 7, and how it affected their Windows 8 interactions. For those who usually clicked the Windows key and then started typing, the removal of the Start button isn't as drastic a change, and you quickly get results that match what you are searching for.

However, those who prefer to hunt through various levels of the Start menu structure are going to have to learn to use the Start search capability. It takes time to adjust old habits to stop moving the cursor down to the bottom left of the screen to click the Start button, but once you've mastered it, you will find that you can use the same method with Windows 7 - Windows key followed by the search term lets you easily find what you need.

Many of the system related properties can also be directly accessed by right mouse clicking in the bottom left hand side of the screen. This shortcut will give you access to most of the power user options in one convenient location. 

Start Screen

If you right click on the Start Screen preview you get access to a large number of useful shortcuts.

Pin Your Frequent Applications To The Taskbar

Application pinning has taken on a new importance on the Windows 8 desktop. I tend to pin the same things to the task bar across my PC collection, with some of those including Resource Monitor, Task Manager, Administrative Command Prompt, Outlook, Word, Excel and then others depend on the machine usage.  Windows 8 will change what I consider to be the essentials to pin, but not too drastically.









Large Display

On a display that is 1920 pixels wide I can pin almost thirty applications to the taskbar - which is more applications than I use on a regular basis. As the resolution drops, so does the number of applications that can be pinned, but with some careful choices you should be able to minimise jumping in and out of the new user interface just to launch your traditional desktop applications. You can also see that I have a new Windows 8 app, in this case the ebay app, running side by side with my traditional Windows desktop.

Use The Desktop Folder

Once you have File Explorer open, going to the Desktop folder gives you easy access to Control Panel, and you have easy access to Computer, Libraries, Network and Homegroup on the left hand side. This gives an easy way to access these capabilities without resorting to Start Search. It's also worth highlighting that the right mouse click is still available, so you can choose Properties on Computer, for example, to get to Device Manager and System Properties to gain access to everything you need.


Rearrange the Tiles on the Windows 8 UI

If there are Windows 8 UI applications that you need to run, move them onto the first screen of the Windows 8 UI. Now you don't need to scroll as much when you are in the new UI. Sure, you may be using the new UI as a glorified App Launcher, but it may be the right solution for you at this point in time. Think of this as pinning items to the start menu like you may have done in Windows 7, and it should give you an idea of what applications to prioritise.

Also take the opportunity to remove any shortcuts that do little more than clutter up the new UI, you can always add things back in later, and save yourself from having to scroll madly while searching for your applications. I also recommend grouping the applications into categories that work for you, such as Games, Desktop Applications. News apps etc.

Learn Your Keyboard Shortcuts

This doesn't just apply to Windows 8, but learning keyboard shortcuts definitely can improve your productivity. Instead of trying to learn too many shortcuts at once and not remembering any of them, start with a smaller number and master them before you take on others. Once Altech's suppliers start shipping keyboards with custom Windows 8 keys, such as a Charms key, we will test them out and let you know what we think.  In tomorrow's post keyboard shortcuts will get much more attention, and you will learn the essentials that will get you started.

Go Go Gadgets

Desktop gadgets have fallen out of favour at Microsoft, and while many of us had our personal favourites, there are a couple of different approaches that should compensate for the loss. The first are the Live Tiles in the new Windows 8 interface, which will give you many of these capabilities. You could argue that hitting the Windows key once to see them is easier than moving the mouse down to the hide desktop area, but you may need to wait for some that rotate through information to present what you want.

The new minimised view for Task Manager can provide you with some quick information on overall system performance, showing CPU, Memory, Disk and Networking statistics. It won't give you the details that some desktop gadgets have as far as system performance goes, but I think it's safe to assume that a few gadget writers will either write new desktop applications or Windows 8 style applications with Live Tiles to give you back some of these capabilities.









Don't Ignore The New UI Elements Completely

This may seem to conflict with the first piece of advice given in this article, but you do need to learn what the new capabilities of the operating system are, and what the new UI can deliver. There no need for everyone to rush in and become experts on day one though, so be a cautious explorer, and you will gradually embrace some of the new capabilities.

The main applications in the new user interface that I spend time in are the new  Remote Desktop client, and the weather app, but depending on your habits or hobbies you may find that other included applications are winners. Don't forget to check out the new Windows 8 Store, it may deliver the applications you are looking for. In the desktop image earlier in the article you can see that it is possible to have both interfaces coexisting, making it easy to jump back and forth between new applications and traditional ones.


Here we have the opposite, where we have a new Windows 8 app, Weather, taking up most of the screen while the desktop is snapped to the left. You will notice that the desktop applications that are open are each presented with their own live image so that you can jump directly to that application when you need to access it. New applications that embrace the snap view and present information in a useful format will definitely gain in popularity.

As more systems start receiving touch capabilities whether via a touch screen or input devices, some of these changes will make much more sense. I like to position Windows 8 as the gateway to the next generation of Windows, and there are some things Microsoft really wants you to get used to before they make any more drastic changes. If you extrapolate the direction things are going, at some point the operating system desktop as we know it could go away, and what is currently seen as heavy handedness with Windows 8 is really just paving the way for the future.